Baylor Bears' Jackson and Heslip sit on the bench during the second half of their men's NCAA South Regional basketball game against the Kentucky Wildcats in Atlanta

Top 25 Countdown: No. 10 Baylor Bears

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 Big 12 (t-3rd); Lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller

Newcomers: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, LJ Rose, Chad Rykhoek, Taurean Prince

Projected Lineup:

G: Pierre Jackson, Sr.
G: Brady Heslip, Jr.
F: Deuce Bello, So.
F: Ricardo Gathers, Fr.
C: Isaiah Austin, Fr.
Bench: LJ Rose, Fr.; AJ Walton, Sr.; Cory Jefferson, Jr.; J’Mison Morgan, Sr.; Gary Franklin, Jr.

Outlook: Baylor is coming off of a weird season. They won 30 games and made it all the way to the Elite 8 before losing to the eventual national champions. But anyone you ask will tell you that the Bears were an utter disappointment last year. That’s what happens when you have a front line that includes Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy and spend the season on the outside looking in when it comes to the conversation for the elite teams nationally.

Think about it like this: Baylor went 1-6 against Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky last season and finished 29-2 against the rest of the country. That trip to the Elite 8? It consisted of wins over No. 14 South Dakota State, No. 11 Colorado (who finished sixth in the Pac-12), and No. 10 Xavier, who disappointed all season long and beat Lehigh to make the Sweet 16.

So why should we trust a team that disappointed for all of 2012 and saw four of its top six scorers leave?

It’s simple: Pierre Jackson.

Believe it or not, Jackson actually led the Bears in scoring last season while finishing third in the Big 12 is assists and second in steals. He may stand just 5-foot-10 on a good day, but he’s as athletic as any back court player in the country. He can get into the paint and finish amongst the trees, he can drive to create and he can hit threes. Defensively, his diminutive size and his quickness make him a pest on the ball.

That’s all well and good, but the reason that I think Jackson can carry this team is that he wants to be ‘the man’. Last season, it was Jackson with the ball in his hands at crunch time and Jackson who was taking last-second shots. The problem, however, was that everyone — including the Baylor coaching staff — wanted, expected and hoped that PJ3 would eventually figure it out and live up to his immense potential. I think that hindered Jackson, but with a young team sitting squarely on his shoulders this year, I’m expecting big things. I think he’ll have a senior season similar to that of Jacob Pullen and Sherron Collins.

Jackson will have plenty of backcourt support. Junior Brady Heslip is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, knocking down threes at a 45.5% clip last season. AJ Walton and Gary Franklin are veterans that can score but are turnover prone, and their minutes may get taken by freshman LJ Rose is Rose can perform well. Baylor played some of their best basketball last season when they went with a three-guard set, and that may be the case again this season. One guy to keep an eye on this year will be Deuce Bello, a 6-foot-3, former top 50 shooting guard. Bello is renowned for his dunking ability, but the rest of his game is still catching up to his athleticism.

The good news for Jackson is that, once again, Scott Drew has brought in a talented recruiting class. It’s headlined by a pair of big men that could very well slide into Drew’s starting lineup. The biggest name is the biggest player on the roster, 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, a top ten recruit nationally. Austin is similar to PJ3 is that he’s a perimeter-oriented player, with the handle and range of a two-guard. The knock on his throughout his high school career was that he wasn’t tough enough to play in the paint at a high level, but there are signs that he addressed that before he graduated.

And even if he didn’t, the Bears will have some muscle around the basket. Ricardo Gathers is a bullying, 6-foot-7 forward from Louisiana that was a four-star recruit. Joining them up front will be junior Cory Jefferson and senior J’Mison Morgan.

Predictions?: This season hinges on two things for the Bears: how much of an impact those freshmen big men will have and just how good Pierre Jackson truly is. If Jackson has a Big 12 Player of the Year caliber season and Austin and Gathers both end up being good enough to deserve consideration for all-Big 12 honors, Baylor will be one of the best teams in the Big 12.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.